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Prachanda's Lumbini association irks Nepali Buddhists

On Thursday Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai announced 2012 as the year to visit Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. But instead of rejoicing Buddhists in Nepal are angry.

world Updated: Dec 04, 2011 15:21 IST
Utpal Parashar

On Thursday Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai announced 2012 as the year to visit Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. But instead of rejoicing Buddhists in Nepal are angry.

And the prime reason for their displeasure is Bhattarai's party chief, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' who has been made head of a national committee formed by the government to develop Lumbini.

Prachanda is also vice-chairman of Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APEC), a Hong Kong based NGO, that had run into controversy over its US $ 3 billion Lumbini development plan.

Buddhists, who comprise around 11% (2001 census) of Nepal's population, are unhappy with Prachanda's association with Lumbini as he is a Hindu and has a violent past.

"Prachanda is responsible for deaths of thousands during the civil war and is not a Buddhist. He should have no role in Lumbini's development," said Amar Deep Moktan, a Buddhist.

Moktan is spokesperson of a new group called Coordination of Preservation of Buddhists' Concerns which enjoys support of nearly 100 Buddhist social, religious, youth and women groups in Nepal.

This umbrella organization is spearheading a campaign to remove Prachanda from the Lumbini development committee and trying to appoint a Buddhist in that position.

On December 7 nearly 5,000-10,000 Buddhists from all parts of Nepal will gather in Kathmandu to take part in a silent rally against Prachanda and demand protection of their religious rights.

Last month Prachanda had met UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon and sought his help to develop Lumbini. Buddhists in Nepal also sent a letter to Moon protesting the Maoist leader's association with Lumbini.

Despite Nepal's transition from a Hindu kingdom to a secular republic three years ago, Buddhists still feel neglected and sidelined by the nearly 80% Hindus in the country.

"With Nepal's transition to secularism we had expected that our rights will be protected. But Prachanda's appointment is an indication that things have not changed," said Indra Lal Gole, general secretary of the group.

Besides targeting the Maoist leader, the group has prepared a five-point charter of demands including declaration of Lumbini as an autonomous zone and protection and preservation of Buddhist religious sites.

"Can you expect a non-Hindu to head the Pashupati Area Development Trust? So why should a Hindu head a committee to develop Buddha's birthplace?" questions Sommaya Tamang, vice-president of the group.

Buddhists in Nepal plan more protests if their demands are not met.